Toulouse were deposed from the summit of the Top 14 on Saturday night, singularly failing to fire in a 17-7 defeat to Union Bordeaux Begles, who replaced them.
Toulouse centre Sofiane Guitone called it his team’s ‘worst match in three years’ and it was hard to disagree. Antoine Dupont ran himself down numerous blind alleys, Romain Ntamack barely showed a glimpse of his Test form and Toulouse’s not insignificant pack was repeatedly scrummed off the ball.
The game was played in ugly conditions in front of a raucous and packed Stade Chaban Delmas, with Bordeaux getting the upper hand of the confrontations early. They had only two Mathieu Jalibert penalties to show for their work at the interval, but a try for Ulupano Seuteni was harshly ruled out and Toulouse had made not a single line break.
Remarkably, a try from flanker Francois Cros by the posts (converted) had Toulouse in the lead early in the second half but that lasted only three minutes, with Maxime Lucu landing a penalty to give his side back the lead and then playing his role in a sneaky short line-out move to perfection to send back-row Bastien Taillefer over. Lucu added a late penalty to seal the win, in an ultimately disappointing game for anybody not affiliated with UBB.
“It was an important game, not for the group, but for the club, for its identity, but also for the city, for the region,” said UBB coach Christohpe Urios. “We did it in front of more than thirty thousand people, against an opponent that we had not beaten for two years. And we should have had two more tries, they were very harshly ruled out.”
Dupont did make one clean break but his support was notably absent and the scrum-half battle was very much won by opposite number Lucu, who was named in Midi-Olympique’s Team of the Week along with Seuteni and flanker Cameron Woki, who was magnificent.
After Jalibert had pulled up with a thigh strain, Bordeaux also saw the game out steered by Francois Trinh-Duc at fly-half, for whom Urios had warm words: “François brought his management of the game with good kicks, but also his communication. I haven’t forgotten that we beat Racing with François and that we beat Clermont with François, so there’s my answer to those who wondered why we recruited him….”
Elsewhere, the upset of the weekend was probably Stade Francais’ defeat of La Rochelle at the Jean Bouin on Sunday. The visitors tore into the game, first with a regulation close-range try from Remi Bourdeau and then a slick move from a line-out, featuring a sensational pass from hooker Pierre Bourgarit and a muscular finish from wing Arthur Retiere.
Raymond Rhule went over for La Rochelle’s third try on the half-hour mark and given their domination at set piece and breakdown, a rout looked a possibility.
But Waisea Nayacelevu cut a hot-knife-through-butter line from six metres out to bring the hosts back into things a little two minutes before the break and then, from the restart, Nayacelevu finished again, this time on the end of a super eight-pass move down the left.
Joris Segonds landed an exquisite touchline conversion to leave the scores tied at the break, then firing an equally exquisite 30 metre pass to Lester Etien on the wing after 54 minutes for what proved to be the winning try.
The Parisians rode their luck, with La Rochelle centre Eneriko Buliruarua completely missing a loose ball when all he had to do was pick it up and fall over for a try, and another try disallowed for a borderline offside a moment later, but they held on.
It’s been a rough season for the side which was heavily reshaped in the off-season, but fly-half Segonds indicated after the game that this win might prove a turning point.
“This victory is a proof of character,” he said.
“That’s what we’ve been missing a little bit since the beginning of the season. For once, when losing, we all found ourselves together, welded together, without shouting at each other. We tried things. The state of mind was good today and I hope we will keep it for a long time.
“It is often the staff who pick up all the criticisms, but they do a crazy job. It makes me really happy for them.”
The standout result of the weekend was probably Castres’ 25-3 win over a limp Racing 92 team which is lurching towards being tagged France’s crisis club.
Rocked by the announced departure of Teddy Thomas to La Rochelle at the end of the season, the points at Castres are their only in their last 120 minutes of rugby, while many have been openly questioning a perceived arrogant attitude (Thomas frequently the main target after his insulting gesture to UBB’s Santiago Cordero last week).
“We are going through a difficult period, we know it,” said defence coach Dimitri Szarzewski. “Solutions will be found.”
Unfortunately, the rumours swirling around suggest that his, and others’ replacement might be that solution, although Jacky Lorenzetti has at least given head coach Laurent Travers his backing. It remains to be seen if that will still be there should Racing slump in Europe as well.
Elsewhere, the games, with the exception of a dreadful 16-16 draw between Pau and Toulon, were pretty one-sided.
Lyon thrashed Brive 41-0 – if ever there was a team looking like heading for relegation, Brive is it – while Clermont dispensed with Biarritz 39-11 and Montpellier won a surprisingly one-sided Languedoc derby 30-6 against Perpignan.